About this Recording
8.579005 - SHCHETYNSKY, A.: Know Yourself / Light to Lighten / Requiem (New Sacred Music from Ukraine) (Cantus Chamber Choir, Gloria Chamber Choir)

Alexander Shchetynsky (b. 1960)
New Sacred Music from Ukraine


The Ukrainian composer Alexander Shchetynsky was born in 1960. His works include compositions in many forms, ranging from solo instrumental and chamber music to orchestral, choral pieces and operas. They have been presented in most European countries and North America, performed by internationally acclaimed artists and ensembles, such as the Moscow Helikon-Opera, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, the children’s choir Maîtrise de Radio France, the Arditti String Quartet, the Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble, Ensemble Wiener Collage, Ensemble Klangforum, Ensemble Continuum (New York), New Juilliard Ensemble, musikFabrik, Stockholm Saxophone Quartet, pianist Yvar Mikhashoff, soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson and cellist Alexander Rudin, among others. Two CDs with his music have been released in the United States and France. Alexander Shchetynsky has received awards at six international composer’s competitions in Austria, France, Luxembourg, Poland, and Switzerland, in which the jury members included Dutilleux, Rostropovich, Penderecki, Palm and Denisov. In 2000 his chamber opera Annunciation was awarded the Russian National Theatre Prize, Gold Mask, in the category of innovation.

Being inspired by the Soviet musical avant-garde, especially Denisov, Schnittke and Pärt, and the Second Viennese School, as well as music by Messiaen, and Ligeti, he developed his personal post-serial style based on a combination of quasi-serial procedures and special attention to attractiveness of sound material and to melody as a source of expression. Another fundamental feature of his music is its rhythmic, structural, and formal flexibility which provokes a feeling of ‘self-development’ of initial micro-thematic patterns. The idea of modern spirituality became an impulse for many of his vocal and instrumental compositions and especially his three operas and choral works. In these newest compositions he moves towards post-modernistic aesthetics and aims at finding a new meta-style which incorporates stylistic elements of various epochs, while staying apart from mere eclecticism.
Virko Baley


Know Yourself Symphony for Unaccompanied Mixed Choir

Hryhoriy Skovoroda is a Ukrainian poet and Christian mystical philosopher of the eighteenth century, a person of the highest level of European education, who developed his own original philosophical system. For this choir symphony I have chosen the texts from his philosophical treatises and some fragments from the Bible and ancient philosophers quoted in Skovoroda’s works. All the texts are used in their original languages, that is bookish Old Ukrainian (the language of Skovoroda’s writings), as well Old Slavonic, Ancient Greek and Latin. These texts outline the main subjects of Skovoroda’s philosophy, the following among them:

– the division of nature into three worlds: the great world (external), the small world or microcosm revealed in the human being, and the symbolic world or the Bible;

– the priority of the spirit over material substance, and the spiritual life of man over rough material elements;

– mystical likening the Sun to the eye and the eye to the Sun;

– a dialectical coexistence of weeping and laughter, hunger and satiety, light and darkness;

– a titanic searching after the sense of human existence, in which Skovoroda follows ancient Greek sages with their famous appeal ‘Know yourself’.

Skovoroda’s philosophical writings strike not only with their universality and profundity but also with their emotional and intellectual tension. In his texts lofty philosophical abstraction is intimately related to everyday life. Out-of-body mysticism is shaded in warm and sincere love for the human being. This gave me the chance to search for the sound equivalent to the meditations of the philosopher. It turned out that his scientific texts proved an inexhaustible potential for musical images. The music of the Symphony, however, does not contain superficial decorative elements that might depict this or that philosophical idea. The lofty style is preserved here. At the same time the music contains many stylistic and genre elements taken from various cultures that differ geographically and in time of origin. These are elements of ancient and the new Orthodox Church singing, melodies of Ukrainian songs, as well as various music techniques. Diatonic and chromatic, clear and naive tonal fragments and dramatic dissonant episodes are incorporated into a new meta-style. The one movement Symphony bears some features of sonata form. It lasts about 35 minutes and is a demanding piece both for the performers and the listeners, similar to the writings of Skovoroda that require from the reader significant intellectual and spiritual efforts.

The Symphony had its première on 5 May 2006 at the 4th Festival of Contemporary Sacred Music in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, with the Cantus Chamber Choir of Uzhhorod conducted by Emil Sokach.

Light to Lighten (Svit vo Otkroveniye) Sacred cantata for mixed choir a cappella and two bells

The first version of Light to Lighten appeared as far back as 1983, that is before Gorbachev’s perestroika when everything associated with the sacred in art was actually forbidden in the Soviet Union. I set to music three Orthodox prayers: Our Father, Song to The Holy Virgin and Now Lettest Thou (Nunc dimittis). At that time there were no chances to perform this choral cycle because of ideological restriction, so I put the score aside and returned to it in 1989 when I rewrote almost the whole piece and added the final movement Credo. Now the work looked like a short choral symphony. I do not think this music might be used at the Divine Service. It is sacred music intended for concert performance. Its character, sound atmosphere and sometimes the type of music themes are inspired by the Orthodox Church tradition, but the ways of elaboration of the material, the music form and texture, and other features are directly linked to chamber and symphonic culture and practice. Sacred and secular here make a synthesis. In Western music such a synthesis had a brilliant history, but in countries with a strong Orthodox tradition, Ukraine among them, this trend is quite young and is just taking its first steps.

The cantata had its première in 2004 in Uzhhorod with the Cantus choir conducted by Emil Sokach.

Requiem for mixed choir and string orchestra

Requiem, for choir and strings, is written to the traditional Latin text. As in my other compositions in recent years, I continue here the development of a new meta-language that includes stylistic elements from various periods: Gregorian Chant and early polyphony, Baroque figures, operatic melodies of the nineteenth century, modernistic innovations of the twentieth century … In contrast to collage techniques and poly-stylistics (Berio, Kagel and Schnittke), this meta-language smoothes the contrasts between various styles and incorporates them as much as possible into one discourse, making the transitions from one style to another imperceptible.

I aim at overcoming eclecticism and finding a new unity in the combination of those musical elements that historically never existed next to each other. Placed in an unexpected context, these fragments of old styles and epochs are transformed and affect each other. In the foreground, one sees not the neatness of stylization, but the adaptation of borrowed idioms, a personal ‘comment’ on them. Music that on the surface may remind one of familiar classics—something from Verdi, Brahms or Palestrina—nevertheless reflects the mentality of our own time, depleted and fussy in some aspects, but at the same time global and universal, aiming at a dialogue of cultures and their interaction.

The work was first performed in 2004 at the Contrasts Festival in Lviv, Ukraine, by the Gloria Chamber Choir and Leopolis Chamber Orchestra conducted by Volodymyr Syvokhip.
Alexander Shchetynsky

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